Date: September 1, 2019
Speaker: Jeff Breeding
Series: The Gospel according to Luke
Scripture: Luke 4:1–4:15
When I was a senior in high school, our world history teacher assigned an essay where we had to answer the question – “What was the most significant day in the 20th century?” I graduated in 1999, so there was a lot of end-of-century type stuff going on then. What was the most significant day of the last one hundred years? I answered June 6, 1944 – the day the Allies successfully landed in Normandy. Most of my classmates said something else. One guy even said his own birthday, which is not surprising I guess.
But the point of the assignment was not actually to get a single answer. You can’t really answer that kind of question with absolute certainty. Rather, the point of the assignment was to illustrate that history does often turn on what we might call hinge moments. A single day or decision is often the difference between the world we know and the world we might have inhabited. History, in other words, turns on those hinge moments.
Our passage this morning in Luke 4 is one of those hinge moments, expect here the focus is not American history or even world history. Here in Luke 4 the focus is redemptive history, or we might say the history of God’s work in the world. It is not an overstatement to describe these verses as the most pivotal moment for humanity since the Garden of Eden. Will humanity continue on the course that Adam set in the Garden, a course of sin and suffering and death? Or will divine grace intervene to change that course through the faithfulness of Someone Greater than Adam? Those are the questions at stake here in Luke 4.
And you can see the pivotal nature of this moment right there for yourself in the text. We don’t have to look very hard to see the significance. Luke lays it out for us. Notice again how chapter 3 ended – with a reference to Adam, who is called God’s son because Adam was directly created by God in the Garden. But Adam, as you know, was an unfaithful son. Adam listened to the serpent’s lies, he fell into sin, and in doing so, Adam plunged the entire human race into sin as well. All of that tragic history comes flooding into view at the end of Luke chapter 3.
But then notice what happens in chapter 4. Jesus, who has also been declared the Son of God, is out in the wilderness where he is tempted by whom? By that ancient serpent from the Garden, the devil himself. Do see you how Luke is laying out these two sons in parallel with one another? Adam, God’s son, tempted by the serpent and fell. But now, Jesus, God’s unique and beloved Son, also tempted by the devil. And that means the question almost leaps off the page at you. Will this Son stand, or will he fail? Will Jesus be faithful, or will Adam’s failure continue? Those are the questions and that means Luke 4 is one of those hinge moments, perhaps the most pivotal moment for humanity since the Garden of Eden.
Of course, we just read the passage, so you already know how those questions are answered. Jesus is better than Adam. But that basic answer is not nearly enough to grasp the grace and truth in this text. There’s so much more here to see. Even though we know the big picture, let’s work through Jesus’ ordeal in the wilderness, paying attention to each part. And as we do, I’d like to draw your attention, very simply, to two truths. The first has to do with God’s Providence, and the second, not surprisingly, has to do with God’s Son. We’ll start, then, in vv1-2, where see that God’s Providence is Always Purposeful.
God’s Providence is Always Purposeful
You’ll remember from last week, Luke ch3, that as Jesus was baptized, the heavens were opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him. The point was to identify Jesus as the Spirit-anointed Messiah, the long-promised Savior of God’s people. As ch4 begins, you’ll notice that the focus on the Spirit continues. V1 says it very clearly – “And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness.” Twice in a single verse, we hear of the Spirit’s role in Jesus’ life, and that role is straightforward. The Spirit leads Jesus; he guides Jesus into the wilderness. This is really significant and here’s why. It shows us that Jesus has done nothing wrong at this point. I don’t know about you, but I often encounter temptation because I make the choice to get too close to something tempting. Can you relate to that? Temptation itself is not a sin, but sometimes I like to walk much too close to that line, so that even the experience of temptation reveals something wrong in my heart.
But that’s not the case with Jesus. He doesn’t stray off course. He isn’t trying to see how close he can get without crossing that line. Instead, this entire episode is an outworking of God’s providence. It is God the Holy Spirit who leads Jesus into the wilderness, which means Jesus is above reproach from the start.
But the Spirit’s providential leading reveals another significant point and we should note that point in v2. Jesus is in the wilderness, v2 tell us “for forty days, being tempted by the devil.” Luke makes clear that the devil is the source of Jesus’ temptations. Again, this is key. God does not tempt Jesus, and Jesus is not tempted by something wicked in his own his heart. Jesus is sinless, even down to his inner thoughts and desires. Can you even imagine that? Down to the core of his being, Jesus loves his Father. And that means these temptations come entirely from the outside. Jesus doesn’t seek these situations out, and they don’t come from within his own heart. It is the devil who assaults Jesus.
But here’s where you have to connect v1 with v2. Remember how this situation began – with the Spirit’s leading. That means even the devil’s testing happens in accord with God’s providence. Do you see the progression? It’s really key. The Spirit’s leading precedes the devil’s scheming. Or, to say it another way, the devil is the source of these temptations, but it is God’s providence that controls this situation. The devil, as wicked and sinister as he is, is ultimately not in charge. His schemes, which are utterly evil, finally serve God’s purposes.
And that changes the perspective on everything that follows. Think about it. Jesus is going to suffer during these forty days. He is going to undergo trials and tribulations, and there will surely be moments when it seems like the devil has the upper hand. And yet, even in those moments, the reality of the Spirit’s leading is like a light in the darkness. The reality of God’s providence is like an anchor in the storm. God is working, even in the wilderness, and his purpose is not threatened by the devil’s schemes.
Isn’t that good news, brothers and sisters? None of us will ever face a season of temptation as intense as Jesus faces here, but all of us can relate to seasons of life where it seems like the trials will never let up. Each of us can relate to the feeling of being attacked on every side. Perhaps you have even had a season where you were seeking to do God’s will, and temptation was crouching behind every corner. Can you relate to that? I know I can. And listen, in those moments, it can be very easy to assume that God is absent, that his purpose has been derailed.
But friends, Jesus’ experience in the wilderness reminds us of what holds true for all of God’s people in every situation of life. God’s providence is never thwarted. His purposes are never derailed. But here’s the important piece – that is as true in the wilderness as it is on the mountaintop. This is one of those truths I have found myself going back to time and time again – the truth that God doesn’t waste anything, not even the wilderness. He is always working, always advancing his purpose, always doing a thousand things, most of which we can’t see at that moment.
And listen, brothers and sisters, sometimes in takes a wilderness for God’s purpose to be accomplished. Remember, faith is like a precious jewel. It’s beauty is both created and revealed through fire, through heat and trial. And that means sometimes God will lead us to the wilderness because in his wisdom, he knows that the heat of that moment is necessary to give our faith the tested beauty that brings even more glory to his name.
I don’t know about you, but that is some solid ground for our faith, wouldn’t you agree? Jesus’ experience is a sweet reminder of God’s providence over all things and in all seasons. What proves true here for Jesus is also true for those who belong to Jesus. And that truth is that God is never absent, his plan is never thwarted, and even in trials, God’s providence is always purposeful.
Even as we rejoice in that truth, brothers and sisters, we must also acknowledge that what Jesus faces in the wilderness is seriously intense. God’s providence is purposeful, but that doesn’t make every situation easy. And that’s certainly what we see here with Jesus. Beginning in v3, Jesus faces off with the devil in a battle of spiritual warfare that has cosmic significance. This is the heart of the passage and the truth we see here is that God’s Son is Forever Faithful.
God’s Son if Forever Faithful
This section of the passage follows a basic pattern. It’s not hard to see. Three times, the devil tempts Jesus, and three times, the Lord Jesus resists, until finally the devil leaves, v13 says, until a more opportune time should arise. That’s the basic pattern, but let’s look a little deeper at each temptation, and let’s pay attention to both the devil’s devices and Jesus’ faithfulness.
The first temptation comes in v3, where the devil questions God’s Word. Notice the suggestive tone of v3 – “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” The temptation of bread is sinister, isn’t it? Jesus has been fasting for forty days at this point, so the devil’s temptation hits Jesus where he is weak.
But as sinister as that is, notice how it all begins with a question. “If you are the Son of God,” the devil says. What did God say, just one passage earlier, Luke 3? God declared that Jesus was his beloved Son, the one in whom God was well pleased. But what does the devil do here in chapter 4? He questions that truth. He questions what God said.
This should sound familiar. What did the serpent say to Eve in the Garden? The serpent asked, “Did God really say?” The device the devil employs here with Jesus is the same he used back in the Garden. The devil’s starting point, it seems, is always to question what God has said. In fact, you can rest assured that an attitude of skepticism toward Scripture nearly always ends in unfaithfulness. One of the devil’s consistent devices is to cast doubt on God’s Word.
But notice the wisdom of Jesus Christ. He responds with the very truth the devil questions. Jesus responds with God’s Word. V4, Jesus says, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone.” This is actually how Jesus responds every time. With every temptation, Jesus cites Scripture, specifically the book of Deuteronomy, which is really the heart of the OT. Think about that. We typically think that resisting temptation requires some elaborate plan and strategy, with lots of different elements that come together to provide the perfect defense. But Jesus’ strategy is quite different. Every time, Jesus simply responds with the truth of God’s Word.
And in this instance that truth is a perfect defense. Jesus cites the truth that God’s people need to remember in every age – the truth that God’s Word is actually the most necessary thing for life in this world. The devil wants Jesus to think about himself, to focus on his needs, his desires. But Jesus is too wise for that scheme. Jesus knows that focusing on self is never the pathway to faithfulness. Rather, God’s Word calls us to entrust ourselves to God, and to believe that his Word will give us all we need for life and godliness. And that’s how Jesus stands firm here. He looks to the provision God has made in his Word.
Brothers and sisters, before we move on, I have to ask you – Do you see the example Jesus sets here when it comes to fighting temptation? The only effective weapon against temptation is the Word of God. Do you know God’s Word like that, brothers and sisters? Are you taking in the Scriptures regularly – reading, believing, and applying what God says? You can’t hold on to what you don’t know. You can’t fight with a weapon you don’t know how to use. If you’re not connected to Scripture, your fight against sin and temptation will always be a losing battle. Are you growing in God’s Word? Why not make today the day that you put down the phone for fifteen minutes in the morning or before you go to sleep, and pick up God’s Word instead and read. If the Son of God used the Scriptures to fight temptation, then how much more should you and I?
Still, that’s only the first temptation. The devil is not that easily deterred. He strikes again, this time with a temptation that distorts God’s will. Look at v5, where the devil offers Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, with one condition. Jesus must worship the evil one. That’s quite the temptation, isn’t it? Global power and glory for the seemingly small price of worship. Does the devil actually have the ability to give Jesus all the kingdoms of the world? Not really. True to his nature, the devil is telling a half-truth here. It’s true that Satan is called the prince of the power of the air in Ephesians 2, and Jesus himself calls Satan the ruler of this world in John 12. But even still, the devil does not own this world or any part of it. He can claim to offer this glory, but it’s not a claim he can deliver.
However, that’s not the heart of the temptation. The devil’s real objective is to distract Jesus from the cross. Remember, Jesus already knows God’s will for him is to go to the cross and suffer for the salvation of his people. But Jesus also knows that suffering will not be the end. By suffering the cross, Jesus will receive the glory of all the world’s kingdoms as his inheritance. “Every knee will bow,” Paul tells us in Philippians 2, because Jesus became obedient unto death, even death on the cross.
But that is precisely what the devil tempts Jesus to avoid. The devil opposes God’s will by offering Jesus a supposedly easier path to glory. “Why go through all that suffering,” the devil whispers. “Why do the hard work of obeying the Father,” the devil asks. “Why not just worship me and get the glory now, without the suffering?” Do you see the temptation? Do you see the subtlety?
Again, this is one of the devil’s consistent devices. The devil knows that faithfulness is hard. He knows there is a cost to discipleship, and so the devil will regularly whisper to us that there is an easier way, if we will just give in. The devil will point to the cost of discipleship, and he’ll say, “Do you really want to go through that? Why not take this easy path, and get the glory now?” It’s part of his scheme, brothers and sisters. The devil distorts God’s will by suggesting there is an easier way than faithfulness.
But just as before, the Son of God stands firm. Notice v8, where Jesus says, “It is written, You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.” Here we see the humility of Jesus Christ. He submits himself to God the Father, even though that means Jesus must endure the cross. But that’s the point here. Jesus fights the devil’s half-truth with God’s whole-truth. When the devil whispers lies, Jesus looks to the Father and to his Word, and Jesus believes that God’s will is best.
Is that true of us? Do we believe that God’s will is best, even when it is costly? Do we believe that faithfulness to God’s Word is worth the hardship it will bring? Listen, I firmly believe this is a question the church in our day must come to grips with. The culture is changing so rapidly that faithfulness to God and to his Word is quickly becoming costly in a tangible sense. Do we believe that such faithfulness is worth it, brothers and sisters?
I pray that we do, and for some encouragement, remember how this played out in Jesus’ life. Was it costly for him to do the Father’s will? Yes. Was it difficult to stand firm on God’s Word? Yes, for sure. But was it worth it? Absolutely. “For the joy that was set before him,” the book of Hebrews tells us, “Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of God.” That’s part of what Jesus is teaching us here, brothers and sisters. He’s showing us with his own life that faithfulness is worth it. He’s showing us that standing on God’s Word always leads to joy and life. That return might be down the road, and we may not receive the full measure till glory. But even so, that return is coming, and that future promise is enough to strengthen us in the present.
Let’s look back to the passage, where the devil has one final temptation for Jesus. V9, the devil doubts God’s goodness. He tempts Jesus to cast himself off the temple summit, in order to see if God will save him. Why tempt Jesus in this way? Remember the context. Jesus has been in the wilderness for forty days, he’s hungry, and he’s about to embark on a ministry that leads to the cross. All of that is hard, to put it simply. And knowing those circumstances, the devil begins to whisper, “You know, if the Father really loved you, he wouldn’t make you do all this. Maybe he’s not actually good to you.” You can feel the pull of that, can’t you?
But the devil’s not finished. In vv10-11, he goes further and twists God’s Word to his advantage. He cites Psalm 91, which says that God will protect his people, and the devil says, “Doesn’t God’s Word promise to do you good, Jesus? If he promised to protect you, then why not make him prove it?” He’s taunting Jesus. This isn’t about angels or Jesus’ divine power. This is about the Father’s character. The devil suggests that God is a liar and that his goodness cannot be trusted.
But once again, notice the faithfulness of God’s Son. Jesus goes back to Scripture, v12 – “And Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” We should marvel here at the wisdom of the Son of God. For Jesus, God’s Word is enough. He doesn’t need the Father to prove anything to him. Jesus has God’s Word, that Word says that God is good, that God never changes, and therefore, God’s Word is enough.
And so, I’ll come back to what I asked a moment ago – do our lives demonstrate our belief that Scripture is enough for life and godliness? It’s interesting, really. When it comes to the Bible, most people think the key question is whether or not we believe it’s true. But friends, I would say the key question is whether or not we believe the Bible is enough. By all means, let’s affirm that the Bible is authoritative, but let’s also demonstrate with our lives that the Bible is sufficient.
And do you know how we do that, brothers and sisters? By building our lives on Scripture, by believing and obeying what God says. If you want to grow, then seek to know God’s Word. If Jesus stood on Scripture, then how much more should we?
But even as we consider the importance of Scripture, did you know that is not the most important application of this passage? Luke 4 is not solely about how we can fight temptation. This passage is ultimately about how Jesus remained faithful under temptation. And that means the most important application of Luke 4 is for us to stop at this point and rejoice that there is a Son of God who remained faithful to the Father. We should stop and rejoice that our salvation rests on Jesus’ obedience to God. The first Adam fell in the Garden, plunging all of us into sin, but the second Adam, the Lord Jesus, stands firm in temptation, and because of his faithfulness, salvation comes to the people of God.
This is actually very helpful for understanding the beauty of salvation. Typically when we think about salvation, we think about it only from one side – the side of Jesus taking our punishment upon himself at the cross. And praise God, that is absolutely true! Jesus did die to bear the sins of his people. But, here’s where we need to see the bigger picture. There is another side to salvation – the side of Jesus keeping God’s Law, of obeying God’s Word in our place. In order for sinners like us to be saved, we need a Savior who bears the punishment we deserve and provides the obedience, the righteousness we lack.
And that’s what we see here in Luke 4, brothers and sisters. As we witness Jesus remain faithful in temptation, we should be overwhelmed with joy that God has provided a Savior who did for us what we could not and would not do for ourselves. We are saved by Jesus’ death and by his life. We’re saved because Jesus bore the wrath of God and because he kept the Law of God. Brothers and sisters, that is the message of Luke 4. Jesus stood firm under temptation because we, so often, do not. Jesus held fast to God’s Word because we, so often, do not. And Jesus remained faithful to the Father so that unfaithful people like us might become the sons and daughters of God by grace. That’s what the temptation of Jesus is about, brothers and sisters. This pivotal moment in redemptive history is about the unparalleled and astounding gospel of Christ.
What better way for us to respond to God’s Word this morning than by coming to the Lord’s Table here in a few minutes to remember his work on our behalf. How fitting it will be to eat and drink together, declaring as we do that our salvation is entirely by grace through faith. It was not us who bled and died; it was Jesus. And it was not us who obeyed to the end; it was Jesus. The Supper reminds us that our salvation rests on the faithful Son of God.
And so, as we prepare to come, may our hearts be encouraged by Christ’s work for us, and in remembering Christ’s work, may we be strengthened for faithfulness as well, until the day he returns. Amen.